26 October 2009

So, what do you do?

I always have the best time at cocktail parties. Not only are there yummy little canapes, fabulous little hats, and, let's face it, cocktails, I'm guaranteed to have this conversation at least once:

Random Person: So, what do you do?
Me: I'm a fashion theorist.
Random (and until this very moment, articulate and witty) Person: Wha?

It never fails.

Then I get the true and unabashed joy of explaining what it is, exactly, I do. This often involves wild gesticulation and, if we're all very lucky, diagrams.

I think about clothes. Not in the "What do I want to wear?" way (although I do that, too): in the "What motivates people to choose the clothing they do? What forces - societal, economic, technological - inform our collective choices in clothes? Why do I want to wear this?" way.

Fashion - clothing in general - is not something we think about much on an intellectual level. We spend loads of time and money on it and devote an immense amount of energy to it. Then we dismiss it as frivolous and meaningless, the preoccupation of airheads and the socially irresponsible.

But let's face it: everybody gets dressed.

The clothes we choose to wear are our first and most instant method of communication with people we meet. Even societies which don't wear clothing per se have cultures of bodily adornment. Choosing not to participate in the society of dress (in other words, being a naturalist or nudist) is itself a fashion choice, and a pretty dramatic one. By putting clothing on our bodies, we create the persona that we present to the world. Clothes can shape our moods, express our loyalties and ideals, and help define who we are - even to ourselves.

There's also much more to clothing than "just clothes." If you've never made a garment before, pick up a large, flat piece of cloth and try to figure out what it would take to make that cloth fit, cover, and stay on your body in a functional and flattering manner. What shapes would you have to cut, and how would you attach them together? If you have made clothes, think about how difficult it was to get that first garment right. An immense amount of technology goes into fitting two-dimensional fabric to the complex, movable three-dimensional forms of our bodies. That technology is constantly shifting, and not always in an additive direction: since the development of the sewing machine and mass-produced clothing, certain tailoring techniques have fallen by the wayside, and are now considered unusual or even revelatory when historically-minded designers delve into the annals of history to revisit them.

And what of history and fashion? Varying forces have shaped the "what do I wear?" question throughout history. Social pressures, status, functionality, religion, politics, and even such seemingly unrelated influences as transportation, advances in petrochemistry, and martial arts have all had a part in shaping wardrobes, and still do.

So if you meet me at a cocktail party (I'm the one in the fabulous hat - the one with feathers and veiling): Yes, I'm a fashion theorist. I think about clothes. I have a degree, a Master's, in this field. I've given academic talks on topics like the similarity of technologies in architecture and women's undergarments, and the connection between the emergence of fashion culture and the concept of individuality in the later Middle Ages.

I'm going to use this blog as a way to explore fashion and everything connected to it (and oh, my, is that a big 'everything'), from the basic technologies of fiber and fabric production to what our clothing choices today mean for the future of society. There may be wild tangents into other areas of interest; I'll try to make them at least moderately relevant or, failing that, amusing.

There's a lot to cover. Let's face it, everybody gets dressed.


  1. I beg to differ :) Everyone puts on clothes. Not everyone "gets dressed." I put on clothes most mornings. Getting dressed -- a mere step away from the coveted getting dressed UP -- is another matter entirely.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to do this! It is fascinating even though I'm a 'put on clothes' type of woman! I couldn't subscribe to this blog fast enough!


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